Catfish and the Blues: Bishop Gunn Gives us the Mississippi Lowdown

Deep in the south, in a small town called Natchez, Bishop Gunn emerged, like torchbearers for a new wave of blues to come out of the Mississippi Delta.

It’s no small legacy to bear, but the four piece has carried it with style, grit and humility. They honor the Delta Blues and its history, but bring to it a blend of soul and rock with the volume turned all the way up. The music is meant to be played loud as it moves from the dark hum of “Alabama” to the punchy and bright “All The Ways.” And like all good blues does, Bishop Gunn reaches somewhere just a little deeper, capturing life’s moments from sin and salvation to everything in between. Drawing upon their roots, the band’s debt album is named after their hometown and marks an impressive start to a long road ahead. We caught up with the band to learn a little more about their Mississippi home and the perfect place for a catfish dinner.

What’s the best spot for a Bloody Mary and some Southern brunch?
Steampunk Coffee Roasters for some brunch. They have amazing quiche, crepes and baked goods and some of the best coffee around. They don’t serve alcohol so sometimes we’ll head right up the street to The Camp for bloody marys afterward.

Favorite outdoor spot to escape the summer heat?
The Bluff. It’s a park that runs along the Mississippi River. It has incredible views and you can find places to sit or find some shade and catch a good breeze. It’s where we held our inaugural Bishop Gunn Crawfish Boil this year, and the sunset can’t be beat from that spot.

Swamp or beach?
Unanimous on swamp! It’s in our blood. There are some cool swimming holes around Natchez. An old favorite is called the “black hole.” Travis took his dad there one day as a kid and was surprised when halfway down the trail he said, “Wait, I know where we’re going. Is there a big thick rope tied in a tree?” Yes. “Is there a cliff jump?” Yes. It turned out that his dad and a friend had hung that rope years earlier. It was a barge rope that they drug down the railroad tracks all the way from the river, and it survived all those years. We think it’s off limits now but there are plenty others in the area like Mud Island off of the Natchez Trace. We’d go there for July 4th celebrating and picnics.

Chicken and Waffles or a Catfish Dinner?
Catfish dinner! Roux 61 is our spot. You can get a catfish platter, catfish po-boy, catfish lebeaux, blackened catfish, catfish sandwich… and any way you go, you can’t go wrong.

Favorite venue for a blues show?
Smoot’s Grocery. It’s been a home to us coming up, and the folks in there are family. At the Bishop Gunn Crawfish Boil we were honored with a key to the city from Mayor Darryl Grennell and chose to hang it in Smoot’s because they have always been so supportive of us, and the music scene in Natchez as a whole.

Best bar in town?
Under the Hill Saloon. On Silver Street, it’s one of the oldest bars on the Mississippi. It spent time as a tavern, brothel and general store and has a rough-and-tumble history. It was also a favorite of Mark Twain’s. These days it’s a fun bar with live music, darts, an open patio and entertaining bartenders. You can find us there when we’re home.

What can you see/do in Natchez you can’t find anywhere else in MS?
We’re proud to say the Bishop Gunn Crawfish Boil! We held the inaugural BGCB this past May on the bluff and it was an awesome time. Over 3,500 people came from all over the country and got to experience Natchez. It was a day of celebrating our hometown with a number of incredible musical acts, great food and drinks and beautiful views. We’re excited to be in talks about making it an annual event!

In what ways does your hometown play into your sound?
Our sound is a real representation of who we are, and Natchez played a big part in shaping us. There is grit, blues, soul and story to our town and we think that comes across in our music as well.

Who do you look to for inspiration in Mississippi’s rich musical history?
With Natchez being at the base of the Delta we grew up surrounded by so much incredible music history and it’s such a huge part of our culture that it’s difficult to only name a few who have influenced and inspired us. Off the top of our heads, Jimmy Reed, Willie Dixon, Robert Johnson, Howlin Wolf, Hound Dog Taylor, RL Burnside, Junior Kimbro, B.B. King.

How do you strike that fine balance between continuing a legacy and adding something new to the mix?
By honoring where we come from and who has come before us but also being true to our own experiences and sound at the same time. We feel like we are standing on the shoulders of these great artists and musicians, and we understand the importance of preserving their stories and influence. We are honored to be carrying the torch and are grateful for the opportunities to do so.  

photo by: Anthony Scarlati; Gigie Hall